Swingin' Vintage Suitcase Stereo




Introduction: Swingin' Vintage Suitcase Stereo

About: Proud member of Newcastle Makerspace! www.makerspace.org.uk

Hmm, I want to educate the masses in the many physical and mental benefits of Swingin jazz music. I guess i'll need some sort of sound system to do it then.

So, it needs to be portable. It needs to be jolly loud so people can hear it over the dancing and over this "urbane" music I hear so much about. Shall I look down the local wireless emporium? Good Lord, all that plastic! Isn't there anything made of finely polished wood and brass? Is there nothing with the appropriate finesse and panache? No?

Well, I guess i'll just have to roll up my sleeves and do it myself...

Step 1:


Main Bits:

Vintage suitcase (I got mine cheap from a vintage shop as it'd been left out in the rain)
Amplifier (ebay)
Car Speaker (mine came from an audi in a scrapyard)
12v battery (7Ah Lead Acid, sealed.)
Inline 12v Blade fuse holder
20A Fuse
Brass gauges (not essential but look really cool, keep your eyes open in dingy antiques shops for a bargain)
Brass Screws
Hessian Cloth (used to conceal the car speakers)
Gloss Varnish (shiny)
Round End Crimps (several different sizes)
Spade Crimps (to connect to the battery)
Stereo component cable to 3.5mm jack
12v Wire

6mm plywood
12mm plywood
6mm square dowel
12mm by 4mm rectangular dowel
20mm by 6mm rectangular dowel
15mm by 40mm batten

Circular Saw
Staple Gun
Hot Glue Gun
Stanley Knife
Soldering Iron

Step 2:

Connect the stereo up, and check that it works. I used crimp connectors for quick and easy connections. Note that the cable to the battery is thick high current wire. Wire the fuse holder into the positive connection to the battery. Setting your stereo on fire would be a pity after so much work!

You may have to solder the speaker wires to the speaker terminals. I had the crimp connections from the cables that were used in the car I salvaged the speakers from, and soldered the speaker wires to those.

The switch is used to turn the amp on and off without taking the front off the stereo. Wiring instructions for a remote on switch will either be included with your amp, or instructions can probably be found by googling. There are some very helpful In-Car Entertainment forums out there.

This amp is probably a bit too large for these speakers at 200W, but I did get it very cheap on ebay! It has a gain control on it, which i could have hacked to build a volume control onto the front panel i decided to pre-set it and use the volume of the mp3 player to control the output volume.

Now, listen to some swing music though it to put yourself into the appropriate vintage mood while you design the stereo...


Step 3:

Measure your suitcase

Take note! The top of my suitcase tapers in to make it close more easily, which caused a problem, so make sure you measure at top and bottom.

Now sketch out what you would like your stereo to look like. I spent a lot of time looking at photos of old art deco radios and art deco buildings to give me inspiration. St Mark's Methodist church in London had the look I wanted and also fit the space and materials I had.

You can see a few photos of my sketchbook. I sketched out some ideas of possible speaker shapes before i settled on the final design.

It can be a good idea to measure your speakers, amp and battery to make sure you will have enough space to fit them all in and to find if you cannot arrange them in a certain way. Luckily mine all fit together, but i did have to move the battery and amplifier on the base to allow the suitcase to close. Depth of the speakers is particularly important! If you have access to CAD software i.e. sketchup or autodesk, you could model the whole thing. I used several pieces of paper the same size as the various components to block out my design.

Step 4:

After you design what you want, you need to cut the wood. I used a circular saw and a jigsaw to cut the pieces out. The circular saw was needed to get the clean straight lines that my design called for, and the jigsaw was used to cut the holes out for speakers and the gauges.

The amp and battery are mounted on a plate of 6mm plywood cut to fit the bottom of the suitcase in a very tight fir so i didn't need to glue it in or screw through the suitcase.

Remember to wear ear and eye protection, as you'll look a right knob if you've made yourself blind and half deaf through stupidity!

Step 5:

Sand the wood down with increasingly fine sandpaper to get a nice smooth surface i went up to 1200 grit with wet and dry. Smoooooth.

To get a really good fit for the gauge holes I left around 1-2mm of spare wood around the edge and then used very rough sand paper to fit the holes to each of the gauges, sanding a bit off, offering up the gauge and then sanding a bit more until i got a very close fit. The right hand gauge hole is such a good fit I didn't need any glue to hold it in place.

Stain the wood, if needed. It's best to do this before you glue the pieces together so that you get a nice even colour, even in any nooks and crannies in your design.

Make sure you test the wood stain on a bit of the wood that you can't see before you do the whole lot. The first stain was far too dark so I had to swap it for a lighter, redder colour to get the desired effect.

Now glue all the pieces together. I used Gorilla Glue, which is brilliantly solid, but does foam up as it dries, so any excess or overspill should be wiped off before it dries. Clamp the wood firmly in place for a nice solid bond.


I used about 10 layers of quick drying gloss varnish. It's a good idea to give the varnish a quick going over with some very fine wet and dry sandpaper, (around 1200 grit) between each coat to get a really nice shiny finish without any blemishes.

Step 6:

The hessian speaker cloth was stapled in place. I left a 1cm edge around the back of the speaker holes, between the different pieces of ply to cover the join between the fabric and wood. Staple the fabric on opposite sides of the hole alternately, making sure you pull nice and tight to get the fabric taut. You can see I stapled parallel to the front, not into the front so that a staple didn't pop through and ruin the finish. The fabric was then cut back and the speakers screwed in place. Again, be careful not to drill or screw through to the front of the stereo.

The holes for the gauges were cut very tight, and carefully sanded so that the gauges could be held in place with an interference fit and a bit of hot glue to keep them steady. This was to avoid having to damage the antique brass gauges. All the visible brass screws on the front are purely decorative.

The switch has a bolt on it to keep it in place.

Step 7:

The front is held in place with four pieces of batten with velcro on them. The velcro makes it easy to take the front on and off. The battens are screwed to the base plate. There are matching velcro patches on the front panel.

The 3.5mm jack input to the stereo simply leads round the side of the front panel when it's in place.

Step 8:

Right, That should be all finished.

Time to find new locales to swing at and ruffians to educate!

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    10 years ago on Introduction

    I really love those vintage look radios. I'm planning on building an PC entertainment center with similar overall looks, maybe in a jukebox style. :) You only have 3.5 mm jack for input. Do you use a Ipod or other player to play the jass?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    i liked the design you choose but was dissapointed from the interrior....you should try to remake/rebuild an interior like the old days......or at least something that looks like the old days of radios.....anyway good job in package


    10 years ago on Introduction

    What a fun project, I love the art deco look, I'm guessing the pressure guages are for the horn players?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not a big fan of jazz music, but I really like what you've done here. Nice job!

    The Engineer As Hero
    The Engineer As Hero

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction


    I used to agree! a lot of modern jazz is a bit inaccessible, and a bit toss. Swing music however, i got into through swing dancing, and it's really dance music. it's really fascinating to see the progression of the music from 20s charleston through to big band, and then on to rock and rhythm and blues.


    10 years ago on Step 6

    maybe you could go better on this step:
    sound is moving air and the space between the speaker and the front panel alows the air to flow from the front to the back of the speakers membrane. This results a loss of bass and power. The sound goes thin. Try to hold a speaker in the air and listen how it wins when you lay it in a fitting hole in a sheet of cardboard.
    A cheap "repairing or tuning" would be to fill the chink with silicone or acryl.

    The Engineer As Hero
    The Engineer As Hero

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Good point! I'll seal up the two side speakers, unfortunately, the two central ones have a big gap between them that i can't do (without a bit of woodwork anyway). I'd been wondering if i could do anything to perk up the sound, and your suggestion sounds worth a go.

    That being said, it probably won't make a difference for a bit of hissy lo-fi 20s jazz!

    Hey, I have one of these! Man I love my music box. I was a record player built into a wooden suitcase so it could be closed up and transported easily while still maintaining a quality sound. Eventually the motor stopped turning but the rest of the box still worked. Making it play MP3s took three solder connections and a headphone jack.
    Your project is considerably more refined than mine however. My lazy (and cheap) arse met the 12v power requirement with eight D batteries. So the box weighs a god damned ton but i've played around thirty hours worth of tunes on those first batteries.

    You sir are made of win, music boxes for life!

    The Engineer As Hero
    The Engineer As Hero

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction


    Yours sounds cool, although i bet my suitcase weighs more than yours! :)

    that amp and battery definitely strain the handle and my arm when i carry it about, not great for a fast getaway...


    10 years ago on Introduction

    That is fantastic. Such a beautiful build! Suddenly I want everything to be made of wood. :D